42 Years Ago – Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti
At 4pm every weekday evening the parade across the fields began. The schoolkids from the village south of town would walk the two miles down into the hill, past the burned out coal mine and up the other side. In age they ranged from 11 to 18; all in school uniforms of black,gray and navy blue, with a hint of the fashions of the day.
In February 1975 Maggie Thatcher had been elected leader of the Conservative Party and the English cricket team had just been beaten by the Aussies in the 6th test in Melbourne. On the walk home from school none of this was remotely as interesting as the latest TV comedies (Porridge, Reggie Perrin, and our new favorite The Sweeney) or what was at the top of the pop charts that week, which is mostly what we talked about. Perhaps Brian Clough or Don Revie added some sport to the conversation on the long walk home now and again, but amongst my old mates music was beginning to dominate.
I was fourteen years old back then, and beginning to discover rock music. The kids I walked home with were on the same path of discovery, and the big deal for most kids was the fact the ‘proper’ groups were bursting into the pop charts and kicking the likes of the Bay City Rollers into the bins. The latter was a particularly divisive group, as one of our motley band had recently added a turn-up of tartan to his school strides to impress the girls. A proper pillock he looked too. Silly sod.
The arrival of the Status Quo (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) on TV a few weeks ago, when ‘Down Down’ briefly topped the hit parade, meant that half of the schoolyard were falling over themselves to get a denim jacket. Fashions tended to follow on from rock and pop stars and the only serious fashion statement a kid in the coalfields could make was a rock star coat.
Paul Dayson had one such coat and he wore it proudly over his school uniform. The sheepskin jacket.
Sartorially these items really belong to the 60s hippies. The Beatles bought theirs from the hipster King’s Road emporium ‘Granny Takes a Trip’ back in the mid sixties. But for fashions to filter into the villages of South Yorkshire and onto the back of a spotty rural fourteen year old there had to have been some kind of compromise. By the time that Paul got his hands on one it was more likely the coat had been made in Keighley rather than Kashmir.
Which brings me nicely to Paul’s favorite new band, Led Zeppelin, and their brand new release.
A big fat double LP called ‘Physical Graffiti’ had been released and older brothers everywhere seemed to have a copy. Paul, I believe, had one of these older brothers who was out at work a lot and drove a Triumph Dolomite. This meant that us young ‘uns could pile round to Paul’s and groove along to the Zep’s latest.
The combination of a Led Zep album and a smelly afghan coat (and boy, they did smell after a few rainstorms had given them a soaking) set the men from the boys. ‘Kashmir’ was the talk of the school yard. The Zep were all the more mysterious and precious because they didn’t release singles, only albums, and therefore didn’t appear on peak time pop shows.
The only way to see groups like Led Zep (and I have my wife in my ear going ‘Saw ’em at Knebworth, mate’) if you were fourteen and a loser like me and my mates was to catch the late night ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ TV show and hope they’d make an appearance.
And they did that very week… Sort of.
Now this is the kind of crap that British TV pulled in those days. The newspaper TV listings would mention that Pink Floyd or Yes or Genesis would be on, only for it to be cut to Steamboat Willie or something. As someone without an older brother to feed me prog rock or metal (Ted Nugent! Deep Purple!) I was feeling my own way around the latest releases, and quite honestly the endless chord changes and noodly solos were no match for genuine innovation like Kraftwerk or Queen.
Listening to it today the album is quite brilliant and I’m quite hooked on it forty years on. With Led Zep it wasn’t about guitar virtuosity – Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend were the axe heroes of the day – or even vocal prowess, and Robert Plant wasn’t especially different from Roger Daltrey or Rod Stewart. But it was the brute force of the band that made the difference. Their music, still rooted in the blues, was now an extraordinarily impressive hard rock sound, with acoustic obbligatos and folk touches complimenting the huge distorted blasts of guitar.
Their earlier albums tend to hog rock radio these days so Physical Grafitti sounds remarkable refreshing today. Give it a spin. Well worth the bother. Not a whiff of afghan coat about any of it.
And a full show from 1975.
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